Amendment empowers cities in regional policy decisions

January 19, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

Local residents will have a larger voice on countywide commissions as early as this month.

A ballot measure passed by King County voters Nov. 4 changes the dynamics and procedures of county advisory boards, empowering cities like Issaquah.The measure, Charter Amendment 3, applies to 38 cities in the county, except Seattle.

“It allows more of a voice for members in suburban cities,” Sammamish City Councilwoman Kathy Huckabay said.

The amendment, approved by voters 67-33, increases the direct influence that localities will have in the county’s three regional committees: policy, transit and water quality.

Starting this month, City Council members and water and sewer district commissioners will become vice chairs on regional committees, giving them the ability to set agenda items.

Before, only King County Council members could be chair and vice chair of the committees.

Huckabay is a member of the regional transit committee, which had its first meeting of 2009 scheduled for Jan. 21.

One way that the change could affect a policy in the near future relates to the county’s allocation of resources to transportation, according to Huckabay.

A report from the Municipal League in November recommended that the county shift its resources to population-dense areas in the western part of the county, essentially shifting the emphasis away from suburban cities like Sammamish and Issaquah and back to Seattle.

On the that topic, the suburban cities will want to play a direct role in setting agenda items and passing legislation, Huckabay said.

“It’s important in terms of what information or standards will be used to make a determination about whether that should or shouldn’t be changed,” she explained.

For each committee, there are six votes representing either the 38 cities in King County — excluding Seattle — or local water and sewer districts. Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend, Snoqualmie and Newcastle are all part of that 38-city group.

In the past, votes from those local representatives were balanced out by six County Council members on each committee. The amendment changes that. Now, there will be three County Council members for each committee, but their votes will be weighted to maintain a 6-6 vote ratio.

“The committees will get some additional ability to influence the regional agenda, more than had been the case in the past,” said Newcastle City Councilman Sonny Putter, who is a member of the regional policy committee.

Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger agreed.

Last year, the County Council was considering a countywide utility tax — something suburban cities’ representatives discouraged with success, according to Frisinger, who is a member of the regional policy committee.

“That’s the single most significant thing that we were able to influence,” she said.

By filling the vice chair position and outnumbering County Council members in committee meetings in 2009, Frisinger said she believes city interests will be better represented in regional policy decisions.

King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert was also in favor of the change.

“They have more formalized acknowledgment of their ability to give input,” said Lambert, who represents Issaquah and nine other cities, as well as parts of unincorporated King County.

The new arrangement also benefits County Council members, she said.

She said she and her colleagues won’t have to scramble to attend committee meetings, which had become an ordeal since the council shrunk from 12 to nine members. Now, a third of the County Council will attend each meeting, rather than two-thirds.

Another major change from the amendment will relate to legislation, according to Beth Mountsier, a lead staff member on the policy and water quality committees.

In the past, a County Council member had to sponsor a motion or ordinance to introduce it. Now, the committees can vote to introduce legislation without a county sponsor.

“That is somewhat different,” Mountsier said.

It’s not too different, though: By nature of the committees’ composition, at least one County Council member would still have to vote in favor of a motion or ordinance for it to pass.

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or Comment on this story at

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